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File photo: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged in the shape of a Euro currency sign on a table in this picture illustration, August 20, 2014. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/Illustration/File Photo

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PARIS (Reuters) - France offered the northern city of Lille as a candidate to host the European Union's drug regulator to replace London after Britain leaves the bloc, the government said on Wednesday.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), Europe's equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is preparing to leave its London headquarters in the wake of Brexit and its executive director is hoping for a quick decision on its new location.

The agency is responsible for the smooth-running of the EU drug approval process, which is vital for companies, as well as overseeing the safety of medicines once they reach the market.

With nearly 900 staff, an annual budget of 322 million euros ($340 million) and luring 36,000 experts a year to its meetings, the EMA is the largest EU institution in Britain and an attractive prospect for multiple cities.

The European Commission dismissed a suggestion from Britain this week that the EMA and another EU agency, the European Banking Authority (EBA), might not have to leave London.

Countering Britain's suggestion that their relocation was "subject to the exit negotiations", a spokesman said it was not and that they would be moved so that they remain on EU territory.

In a statement issued by the office of the French Prime minister, the government praised Lille's location in western Europe as the city is close to Brussels, London and Paris.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Michel Rose and Alison Williams)

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